What Are Peptides? What To Know About This Anti-Aging Ingredient

Skincare products with peptides may smoothen the skin and protect it from sun damage.

You may have heard about cosmetic and skincare products that have peptides, an ingredient that fights premature aging.

Essentially, peptides are small proteins. When it comes to skincare, peptides have many possible benefits, like helping combat fine lines and wrinkles, protecting the skin from ultraviolet (UV) damage, treating acne, and healing wounds.

Photograph by Peter Ardito

What Are Peptides?

Peptides are short chains of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. In skincare products, peptides help increase collagen production and elasticity, Geeta Yadav, MD, a dermatologist and founder of Facet Dermatology, told Health.

Collagen is a protein that helps build your skin, bones, and cartilage. So, collagen peptides are amino acids that form collagen.

"Many peptides are small enough to penetrate the skin," Blair Murphy-Rose, MD, a clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College, told Health. In other words, peptides have a more profound impact than skincare formulas that use large molecules. Unlike peptides, those molecules simply sit on the skin's surface.

Benefits of Peptides

When it comes to skincare products, peptides may have several benefits. Still, more research is needed to understand peptide's possible benefits fully.

Reduces Fine Lines and Wrinkles

As people age, collagen and elastin fibers decline, which weakens the skin. As a result, the skin becomes less firm, leading to fine lines and wrinkles. In contrast, peptides help smoothen the skin by increasing collagen production and improving elasticity. 

"In skincare, peptides are best known for stimulating skin repair and inhibiting the signs of aging," explained Dr. Yadav. 

In a study published in 2020 in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, researchers studied the effects of peptides on premature aging. The researchers asked 22 people aged 40 or older to use peptides on their faces and necks. After two weeks, peptides helped reduce the appearance of aging skin among the participants.

Some peptides even have a mild Botox-like effect that will relax muscles and treat fine lines, added Dr. Murphy-Rose.

Might Protect Against UV Damage

Your skin is a barrier that protects you from the sun's UV rays, microorganisms, and pollution. Some evidence suggests that peptides help support the skin barrier, protecting you from UV damage. In addition to aging, UV exposure also causes fine lines and wrinkles.

Skincare products with peptides might treat premature aging caused by UV damage. However, more research is needed to understand the role of peptides in sun protection fully.

May Treat Acne

Some peptides have antimicrobial properties. In other words, those peptides get rid of microorganisms, like bacteria. Some evidence suggests that antimicrobial peptides help with chronic skin conditions, including acne.

When bacteria clog the pores on your skin, your immune system responds. As a result, pimples form on the skin. In contrast, antimicrobial peptides might prevent bacteria from clogging the pores.

Helps Heal Wounds

Collagen is a key protein in wound healing. Since peptides boost collagen production, some products with peptides may help heal minor injuries. 

What's more, since some peptides have antimicrobial properties, some evidence suggests that peptides repair the skin while preventing infections. People with trouble healing wounds, like some with diabetes, may benefit from the healing properties of peptides.

How To Use Peptides

Many anti-aging formulas include peptides. For the most part, peptides mix well with active ingredients, Gloria Lu and Victoria Fu, skincare chemists and co-founders of Chemist Confessions, Inc., told Health.

You may see anti-aging formulas paired with vitamin C and hyaluronic acid. Vitamin C can slow aging, prevent sun damage, and reduces fine lines and wrinkles. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps fight pollution that comes into contact with your skin. Also, hyaluronic acid hydrates the outer layer of the skin.

Opt for products with long-lasting contact on the skin, like serums and moisturizers, noted Dr. Murphy-Rose. Those products give the peptides enough time to go to work. 

A Quick Review

Peptides are small proteins that penetrate the skin to moisturize it and help smoothen fine lines and wrinkles. Opt for serums and moisturizers instead of cleansers if you want to try skincare products with peptides. The longer you give peptides time to work on your skin, the more benefits you'll reap.

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11 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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